As we get ready for DELVE Food + Art on July 22nd, we're spending a lot of time researching and talking with artists who work with food. The artist who originally inspired our interest in this topic is Leah Gauthier. We've worked with Leah on many various projects and were very excited to help her launch the Marshall Strawberry project last year. This year, Leah began a new body of work which is very much inspired by her new surroundings on the coast of Maine. We asked her a few questions about the new project here.
What inspired your new body of work, Some Bring Gifts?
I think I've been moving towards this work my whole life. Growing up on a river bank in Northwest Indiana, just outside of Chicago, I spent my childhood foraging for rocks, watching snapping turtles lay their eggs, knitting, embroidering, drawing, making prints and cooking. Always wanted to be an artist and a naturalist when I grew up. Some Bring Gifts is really a synthesis of my lifelong loves.
What is the process for creating these works?
My creative parameters materials-wise here are anything that is on hand, or I cross paths with– foraging, happenstance, alternative purpose or gifts can be used in a piece. I start out with one interesting element, most often the handmade component. Then it's an intuitive chess game for constructing the rest of the piece since the materials are so varied.
Foraging plays a big role in the materials you use in this project. Do the results of your foraging determine the sculpture, or do you have an idea in mind before you look for materials?
Mostly the results of many outings. On occasion I'll search with more specificity to advance or complete a piece. One complicated aspect of this work is that the foraged components are seasonal. I might have to wait a whole year for something just past it's moment.
What is the most interesting natural form/plant/material you've found on your foraging walks? And did it make it into one of the sculptures?
I found some chaga in the woods of Islesboro, Maine on a recent trip there. Chaga is a parasitic fungus found mostly on birch trees, highly prized for medicinal purposes in Russian and Eastern European folk medicine. Never made it back to the house. Two toddlers in tow and no collection bag on hand. Last week a beautiful tiny silk spider egg sac appeared in my mail box. That will be woven into a piece soon as I'm certain the babies have hatched.
Does food/food production/social and cultural constructs around food, play a role in this work (since it factors so heavily in much of your other work)? If so, how?
Yes, mostly because food (growing, cooking, preserving) is such an important thread of my everyday life. A wide range of ingredients are always close at hand. Food is also super sensual as sculptural material. Scented, flavorful, cultural, social, political, vital for survival, it's charged in every way imaginable.
Can you share some thoughts about your approach to your art practice and how living mindfully plays into that? I strive to live and make art lightly, simply and in the moment. Natural materials are ephemeral, biodegradable, seasonal and sometimes edible. Recycled materials can be made to live many lives beyond their original purpose given enough creativity and ingenuity to make that so. All of this work requires me to tune in and look deeply into what is right in front of me, then re-imagine.
Leah Gauthier (b. 1963, Chicago, IL) is an intermedia artist who lives and works in Brunswick, Maine. Her work explores food--growing, eating, cooking, preserving, scent and memory, food as sculptural material, history of food and agriculture, revival and protection of endangered food plants, urban agriculture, sustainable and transitional growing, food as cultural identity and as an agent of social change.
Leah's art has been exhibited in traditional and unconventional spaces including Eyebeam in New York City; Decordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts; The Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine; SoFA Gallery at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana; Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine; the National Heirloom Exhibition in Sonoma, California; GASP Gallery in Brookline, Massachusetts; 808 Gallery at Boston, University and 0.00156 Acre Gallery in Brooklyn, New York.
She has been an artist-in-residence at the MacDowell Colony, Eyebeam and The Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughn, Ireland, and has received grants and awards from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Puffin Foundation, Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and others.
Leah received her M.F.A. From the School of the Museum of Fine Art Boston and Tufts University, and her B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has taught at Butler University, Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Art Indiana University Bloomington, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Tufts University and Chester College of New England. She is a founding member of ||| Art curatorial collective.
If you're also interested in Food+Art, join us on July 22 in Brooklyn! Tickets here.